Interview with Linda Hutchinson - Deputy CEO / Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development, Inspire

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 24 May 2017

Our latest interviewee is the 2016 CIPD NI HR Director of the Year Linda Hutchinson. Linda discusses how HR professionals have the skillset to become a CEO, offers invaluable advice to others in the industry and explains why she is so proud to work for Inspire.

Linda Hutchinson - HR Director, Inspire

Name: Linda Hutchinson

Position & Organisation: Deputy CEO / Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development at Inspire (the new name for Niamh, Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health).

Number of Employees: Approximately 700 staff and over 300 associates and volunteers who also provide services to our clients.

Time in Post: I have worked for Inspire since April 2012

Previous Jobs: Before coming to Inspire, my experience has been mainly in the private sector in HR director positions with large multi-national companies in airport management, facilities management, manufacturing and engineering. I also held the position of Director of Personnel for the National Museums & Galleries of NI.

Tell us about your business

Inspire is a large and long established charity and social enterprise operating across the island of Ireland delivering community-based mental health and learning/intellectual disability services to thousands of clients each year, as well as workplace and student wellbeing support to approximately 1.5 million clients across Ireland and GB.  

Give us an idea about your early life and career

I went to school in Coleraine and when I went on to university, my primary degree was in Geography. But I soon realised that I wanted to work in business and attended a management course after university in HR management.  My first role saw my move down from the North Coast to Belfast where I worked as a personnel officer for a clothing manufacturer employing over 500 women – got to know maternity legislation like the back of my hand!

During that time I obtained a Post Graduate Diploma and Masters degree in Human Resource Management from Ulster University. I am also a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

In this sector, our staff are the key component – our work enhances people’s wellbeing, it’s not manufacturing widgets, so ensuring our culture and values are lived through our staff with integrity and compassion is paramount. We are a multi-faceted organisation with over a thousand staff members and associates dispersed across a wide geographic area, and growing! Staying ahead of developments, and providing for differing staffing needs in each service area is definitely the greatest challenge.

What keeps you going when things get tough?

The people - those I work alongside who are committed to making a positive impact on the lives of others. Whether on the ‘front line’ in our services, or at Central Office, everyone within Inspire is dedicated to playing their part in helping those we support recover wellbeing and live life to their full ability. That dedication helps to spur me one when things are challenging.

When work it tough (as it is for us all at times), it is also very humbling and energising when I get the opportunity to visit services and meet those individuals we support. Their courage, dignity and determination to recover or build a good quality of life for themselves reminds me when it’s a late finish or a very early start why I do this job, and why I’m proud to work for Inspire.

If you could do any job in the world, what would it be?

HR was always my chosen career path and I am lucky to be in what I see as my ideal job. If I was day dreaming of something I would love to do, it’s probably running some type of accommodation in rural Italy, cooking wholesome food, discovering local and delicious wine and being able to offer warm hospitality to guests!

Who do you most admire in business locally and/or internationally? Why?

I can think of two people I have great admiration for. Firstly Malala Yousafzai, the brave young women who stood up and spoke out for what she believed in and who was willing to risk her own safety to help other young women get an education.

Closer to home, I still admire a previous manager of mine who showed me the importance of promoting staff engagement and proactively investing in employee health, happiness and wellbeing.  He generously paid a high proportion of the profit in his privately owned business to reward his staff, and took time to thank them personally – you know who you are Bill!

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I love spending time in my garden and getting into my greenhouse to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. I also enjoy cooking for and entertaining friends and family, trying out new wines and when time allows, visiting my favourite country, Italy.

What skills are essential for a top career in HR?

As an HR leader, your role will be about unlocking and developing potential in others so excellent people skills are essential. You need to be empathetic, a good communicator with well-developed influencing skills, but also be objective and commercially aware. It’s essential to have a thorough understanding of the sector or business you work in, in order to add value as an HR professional.

What would be the key piece of advice you would give to people considering a career in human resources?

HR is a rewarding career, giving opportunities to specialise or be more generalist. Nowadays HR professionals are recognised as having excellent CEO qualities. However, you need to work hard to gain credibility and continuing professional development is essential as it is an ever evolving role.  Make sure you genuinely enjoy working with people!

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

Although I was very honoured to be named as HR Director of the Year by CIPD NI in 2016, the achievements I am most proud of are not my own, but those of my excellent team - including winning HR Team of the Year in 2015, and more recently, all their hard work to achieve Investors in People Gold Award.

In your view what is the best thing an organisation can do to motivate staff and drive higher performance?

Within Inspire we have explicitly examined and identified the traits of a high performing working environment that motivates staff, these are:

  • Effective leadership.
  • Clarity of purpose.
  • Effective communication.
  • High levels of trust.
  • Ongoing commitment to development.
  • A positive working atmosphere.

We have worked hard within Inspire to develop and reinforce a culture that consciously focuses on employee engagement and wellbeing, gaining discretionary effort from your employees is not something that can be left to happen by chance.

This article is correct at 24/05/2017
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